While considered "alternative" today, most alternative systems have existed since ancient times. After the public school system was widely developed beginning in the 19th century, some parents found reasons to be discontented with the new system. Alternative education developed in part as a reaction to perceived limitations and failings of traditional education. A broad range of educational approaches emerged, including alternative schools, self learning, homeschooling and unschooling. Example alternative schools include Montessori schools, Waldorf schools (or Steiner schools), Friends schools, Sands School, Summerhill School, The Peepal Grove School, Sudbury Valley School, Krishnamurti schools, and open classroom schools.
In time, some ideas from these experiments and paradigm challenges may be adopted as the norm in education, just as Friedrich Fröbel's approach to early childhood education in 19th century Germany has been incorporated into contemporary kindergarten classrooms. Other influential writers and thinkers have included the Swiss humanitarian Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi; the American transcendentalists Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau; the founders of progressive education, John Dewey and Francis Parker; and educational pioneers such as Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner, and more recently John Caldwell Holt, Paul Goodman, Frederick Mayer, George Dennison and Ivan Illich.
Indigenous education refers to the inclusion of indigenous knowledge, models, methods, and content within formal and non-formal educational systems. Often in a post-colonial context, the growing recognition and use of indigenous education methods can be a response to the erosion and loss of indigenous knowledge and language through the processes of colonialism. Furthermore, it can enable indigenous communities to "reclaim and revalue their languages and cultures, and in so doing, improve the educational success of indigenous students."
Informal learning is one of three forms of learning defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Informal learning occurs in a variety of places, such as at home, work, and through daily interactions and shared relationships among members of society. For many learners this includes language acquisition, cultural norms and manners. Informal learning for young people is an ongoing process that also occurs in a variety of places, such as out of school time, in youth programs at community centers and media labs.
Informal learning usually takes place outside educational establishments, does not follow a specified curriculum and may originate accidentally, sporadically, in association with certain occasions, from changing practical requirements. It is not necessarily planned to be pedagogically conscious, systematic and according to subjects, but rather unconsciously incidental, holistically problem-related, and related to situation management and fitness for life. It is experienced directly in its "natural" function of everyday life and is often spontaneous.
The concept of 'education through recreation' was applied to childhood development in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, the concept was broadened to include young adults but the emphasis was on physical activities. L.P. Jacks, also an early proponent of lifelong learning, described education through recreation: "A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well." Education through recreation is the opportunity to learn in a seamless fashion through all of life's activities. The concept has been revived by the University of Western Ontario to teach anatomy to medical students.
Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is a contemplative, absorbing process, of "learning on your own" or "by yourself", or as a self-teacher. Some autodidacts spend a great deal of time reviewing the resources of libraries and educational websites. One may become an autodidact at nearly any point in one's life. While some may have been informed in a conventional manner in a particular field, they may choose to inform themselves in other, often unrelated areas. Notable autodidacts include Abraham Lincoln (U.S. president), Srinivasa Ramanujan (mathematician), Michael Faraday (chemist and physicist),Charles Darwin (naturalist), Thomas Alva Edison (inventor), Tadao Ando (architect), George Bernard Shaw (playwright), Frank Zappa (composer, recording engineer, film director), and Leonardo da Vinci(engineer, scientist, mathematician).
In 2012, the modern use of electronic educational technology (also called e-learning) had grown at 14 times the rate of traditional learning.[clarification needed] Open education is fast growing to become the dominant form of education, for many reasons such as its efficiency and results compared to traditional methods. Cost of education has been an issue throughout history, and a major political issue in most countries today. Online courses often can be more expensive than face-to-face classes. Out of 182 colleges surveyed in 2009 nearly half said tuition for online courses was higher than for campus based ones. Many large university institutions are now starting to offer free or almost free full courses such as Harvard, MIT and Berkeley teaming up to form edX. Other universities offering open education are Stanford, Princeton, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Edinburgh, U. Penn, U. Michigan, U. Virginia, U. Washington, and Caltech. It has been called the biggest change in the way we learn since the printing press.Despite favorable studies on effectiveness, many people may still desire to choose traditional campus education for social and cultural reasons.
The conventional merit-system degree is currently not as common in open education as it is in campus universities, although some open universities do already offer conventional degrees such as the Open University in the United Kingdom. Presently, many of the major open education sources offer their own form of certificate. Due to the popularity of open education, these new kind of academic certificates are gaining more respect and equal "academic value" to traditional degrees. Many open universities are working to have the ability to offer students standardized testing and traditional degrees and credentials. A culture is beginning to form around distance learning for people who are looking to social connections enjoyed on traditional campuses. For example, students may create study groups, meetups and movements such as UnCollege.